I’ve never quite understood the novelty behind subscription boxes.
Take Japanese subscription boxes, for example. They may be bursting with all sorts of themed goodies—snacks, stationery, beauty products, comics, fizzy beverages, merchandise—but it’s always hit-or-miss.
Is there more to them than the element of surprise? Do they beat trips to the snack aisles of Japanese speciality marts? Are they even worth the money?
An agonisingly long wait and an empty wallet later, I found myself in front of three snack subscription boxes.
The three brands (that ship to Singapore) I settled on were Bokksu, Zenpop, and Wowbox.
You may have heard of Bokksu, a premium monthly subscription service that partners with local snack makers to deliver Japan-exclusive snacks internationally.
Bokksu is the only Japanese subscription box to include a Tea Pairing specifically selected to complement that month’s delicacies, as well as a Culture Guide magazine detailing the snacks’ story and flavours.
They strive to curate only the best artisanal quality snacks, not mass-produced filler products.
Three versions are available: Classic Bokksu (from USD$36/month), Tasting Bokksu (from USD$23.50/month) and even a Vegetarian Snack Bokksu (from USD$36/month).
Subscription Boxes are billed according to a subscription plan (e.g. paying every three months), whereas Gift Boxes are a one-time payment, which is ideal if you intend to try one box.
Look through the previous months’ themes on the Past Boxes page, and you can even individually purchase products from the recent month.
Details of upcoming boxes are also available, so don’t peek if you want to be surprised.
Every box is shipped out within five days, and sure enough, mine took a week to arrive.
I went for the Classic Bokksu (USD$39) on a monthly subscription, which can be easily deactivated.
The theme for August 2019 was Fireworks Festival, a reflection of Japan’s summer tatami (street food stall) culture.
How could so many snacks fit into this compact box?
Flipping through the comprehensive (and beautifully printed) Culture Guide, I was provided with the nutritional information and flavour profiles of each product.
Here’s what I received:
- White Strawberry: white chocolate-infused freeze-dried strawberry
- Satsumarche Mizudashicha Tea: cold brew matcha–sencha tea
- Puku Puku Tai: Strawberry taiyaki wafer
- Baby Star Yakisoba: crunchy yakisoba snack
- Hana Kokeshi: “Flower Dolls” with a peanut “head” and soy rice cracker “body”
- Mala Fried Rice Cracker: mala cracker
- Kongari Corn Rice Cracker: soy corn cracker
- Sauce Uma Sen: Worcestershire-based sauce cracker
- Beni Shoga Fried Kaki no Tane: pickled ginger umezu snack
- Dora Choco: chocolate dorayaki
- Handmade Ramune Candy: soda pop candy
- Black Syrup Kinako Warabimochi: instant warabimochi
There were multiple packets of some snacks, but you’ll hear no complaints here! After all, a Classic Bokksu is supposed to contain 20-25 snacks.
Handmade Ramune Candy, produced in collaboration with Bokksu and Daimonji Ame Honpo, would appeal to fans of the iconic Japanese carbonated beverage.
As expected, this soda pop-flavoured marble candy was sweet, smooth, and fizzy, much like the drink.
Some of us were very excited for the crunchy Ryumon Shoji Mala Fried Rice Cracker, which was savoury and spicy, with the mildest numbing sensation. Mala? Not quite.
I’m not much of a DIY fanatic, but I’ll never say no to constructing my own instant warabimochi.
The Kyoushin Seika Black Syrup Kinako Warabimochi came equipped with three sachets: clear-white warabimochi, kuromitsu (black syrup), and kinako (roasted soybean powder).
This soft, nutty, and gooey creation didn’t taste much like the real deal, but at least it was quick and fuss-free. Decent enough if you need warabimochi in a minute.
Here’s a summary of the reasons why you should order from Bokksu:
- Free international shipping for subscription orders
- Pretty unique, specially curated snacks hard to find in Singapore
- Familiar but not typical flavour profiles
- Speedy and reliable shipping (fastest among the three)
- Great for gifting
Osaka-based subscription service Zenpop offers all things fun, kawaii, and tasty.
A start-up by independent Japanese online shopping and proxy service Zenmarket, Zenpop and its multicultural team aims to spread warm and lighthearted Osaka vibes around the globe.
Choose a preferred subscription plan; automatic renewal can be turned off should you wish to order only one box or cancel your subscription.
I’ve seen the iconic Ramen Pack being featured in various YouTube haul/unboxing videos but wanting the best of both worlds ultimately led me to the Ramen + Sweets Mix Pack (USD$25).
Shipping took about two weeks. Pretty reasonable, given that boxes are typically shipped out within a week from ordering.
The theme for August 2019 was Sugar & Spice, featuring a sweet and spicy selection of two ramen varieties and seven full-sized snacks.
There was little information about this month’s box on the website, save for a succinct blog entry.
Thank goodness for the double-sided info sheet containing product descriptions and potential allergens.
Here’s what I received:
- Korean “Shin” Ramen: spicy Korean ramen
- Mini Cup Noodle Curry: Japanese curry ramen
- Pari Cheese – Spicy Gouda: spicy cheese crackers
- Bonchi-Age Mentaiko: mentaiko rice crackers
- Espresso Sandwich Cookies
- Aunt Maggies Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Salty Vanilla Cookies: butter cookies with vanilla and Okinawan salt
- Melon Soda Gum
- Apple Soda Gummy
A decent, though not amazing snack selection for sure, but the presence of miniature Nissin Cup Noodles and the extremely common (non-Japanese) Shin Ramen was disappointing.
Looking through past boxes containing various unique noodle dishes, I’m sure it was just a case of unfortunate timing.
I’d take these Furuta Salty Vanilla Cookies over regular butter cookies anytime. Rich and crumbly with only a hint of that characteristic sweetness, they are best enjoyed with a cup of tea.
Hit up these crunchy and addictive Pari Cheese Spicy Gouda biscuits the next time you need a light snack to go with your beer. Trust me, we couldn’t stop munching on them.
This has got to be my FAVOURITE snack out of everything from all three boxes.
The intense coffee aroma of the Matsunaga Adult’s Luxury Rich Espresso Cream Sandwich Biscuits hit me before I even tore the packet open. Bittersweet, crunchy, creamy and oh-so-decadent—my caffeine-idolising self fell head over heels for them.
Now if you don’t mind me, I’ll be scouring the shelves at the nearest Japanese mart.
Here’s why we think you should order from Zenpop:
- Free international shipping
- Slightly less taxing on the wallet
- Perfect for ramen and candy lovers (individual Sweets and Ramen Packs are worth the splurge)
- Easy-to-handle subscription with the automatic renewal option
Wowbox is a subscription and gift box platform specialising in limited-edition snacks from Tokyo, Japan.
Their mission is to always introduce new and underrated products that go beyond customer expectations.
There are four exciting categories to choose from, so there’s something for everyone.
The Fun & Tasty (USD$24.99/month for regular, USD$34.99/month for large) is a good balance of all the fun, tasty, and weird treats Japan is known for.
Those of you here for the hype, the New & Limited (USD$24.99/month for regular, USD$34.99/month for large) has the newest, rarest, and super-exclusive treats just for you.
And for the young-at-heart, the Dagashi (USD$14.99/month) has a fun-sized selection of nostalgic childhood treats for a monthly #throwback.
I must commend the systematic ordering process, which included an efficient “disable auto renewing” tool.
My order arrived in a rather basic nondescript box, a far cry from the colourful ones featured on the website.
I went for the large-sized New & Limited box (USD$34.99), which comes with nine to 11 snacks and a special item (usually a drink).
Shipping is free, but you have the option of Semi-Express (additional USD$15) and Express (additional USD$27) shipping. Opting for the former, which promised a shipping time of 8-12 days with a tracking number, was a mistake.
I only received the box after slightly over three weeks, with no tracking number or shipping confirmation email whatsoever. Paying for Semi-Express shipping was a complete waste of money.
Product lists are only released more than a month after each shipment and are not provided with the boxes. That means I had to deal with the translation and do my own research.
Fortunately, the majority of the snacks received were rather unique.
Here’s what I received:
- Tsumamel Corn Rich Garlic: puffed garlic corn snacks (savoury version of Tohato Caramel Corn with the red packaging)
- Coca-Cola Clear Lime
- Pocky Choco Mint: chocolate mint stick biscuits
- Pari Cheese (Oregano Pizza): pizza-flavoured crackers
- Glico Pretz Scented Roast: buttery roasted stick biscuits
- Toppo Cheese Tart: cheese tart-flavoured filled cookie sticks
- YBC Atsugiri Hinata Summer Chips: lemon-flavoured potato chips
- Kanro Puré Gummy Candy (Lemon)
- Meiji Gochi Grape Gummy Candies
- Morinaga Ottotto x Pokemon Snacks: salted crackers
- Kosai Soft Candy (Shine Muscat): grape-flavoured chewy candy
A couple of the products (like the gummies) can easily be found at Japanese speciality marts here, but I suppose it varies by country. We certainly have access to a rather extensive range of imported Japanese goods in Singapore, a luxury I am grateful for.
Receiving a different flavour from the same product range in two separate boxes is certainly a coincidence. The Pari Cheese Oregano Pizza didn’t fare as well as its Spicy Gouda counterpart, but still made for a great snack nonetheless.
I puckered up with the novel YBC Atsugiri Hinata Summer Chips. Sour and tangy with lemon-tinged salt and a hint of sweetness, they served as a refreshing alternative to boring ‘ol potato chip flavours.
These adorable yet underwhelming Morinaga Ottotto x Pokemon Snacks tasted like a lame version of the salted Monde Pola Snack from my primary school days.
Pokemon fans can keep the box plastered with Pokemon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution artwork as memorabilia.
Anyone who’s constantly on the hunt for interesting Coca-Cola flavours is sure to delight in the Japan-exclusive Coca-Cola Clear Lime. Some of my colleagues commented that it tasted like Sprite or 7-Up, while others noted a flavour reminiscent of sour plum.
Here’s a summary of the reasons why you should order from Wowbox:
- Free international shipping (if you don’t mind waiting)
- Unique, exclusive and often limited edition products uncommon outside of Japan
- Great balance of sweet and savoury, and familiar and unconventional flavour profiles
- Super easy step-by-step ordering process with an auto-renew disabling option
After trying all three, Bokksu takes the top spot for me.
The themed boxes, though pricey, have been specially and lovingly curated, and it shows in their product quality. I also like that they offer snippets of knowledge with every box, instilling in customers a deeper appreciation for Japan’s cultural delights.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to personal tastes and preferences. Give snack subscription boxes a try if you prioritise variety and convenience over accessibility. After all, receiving a box of surprises is always fun!